Consider the Nettles

I was at work today, in the playground area of the preschool where I teach. School starts soon, so there I was, with weed whacker (or strimmer, as it is known in the UK), gloves and Felcos. The air was close, wet, and cool. As I hacked away at a resisting clump of stinging nettle & blackberries, I was brought right back to YWAM's Seamill Centre, Scotland, in the Greenhouse Meadow, which once held the glasshouses for the Seamill Cooperative Home, the convalescent home for which the building was originally built. When you dig down into the soil of the meadow, you usually find broken window glass, remnants from the glasshouse roofs.
Nettle & Teasel
The Greenhouse Meadow is now covered with stinging nettle, alas, alas, and I really had no idea they could get so high, shoulder-height at least. Actually, they are one of the plants that are usually found in areas of previous human habitation, like fireweed and teasel (Dipsacus fullonum). Teasel was commonly used in the wool industry, to raise the nap on fabrics (or 'tease' the fibers.) Whenever we walk the train tracks from our house down past Roaring Camp to Santa Cruz we pass through the abandoned settlement of Rincon, now just a clearing, dotted here and there with large teasel clumps. Teasel is a sweet plant, and I always mean to plant some on the fringes of the garden. Nettles are another matter all together.

Today as I was hacking away at it, I couldn't help but admire it's smell, which is strangely quixotic, a blend of citrus, mint & something indefinable, sort of wet green plant matter. But they really are a scourge, and quite painful if you so much as look at them too closely. I don't care what anyone says, I know they're edible, that the taste of the young leaves is like spinach, and that a soup made from its young shoots is considered a delicacy in Scandinavia. It has amazing medicinal properties. But it hurts and is a major weed. The hurt comes from the plant's trichomes, little stinging hairs that stick in your skin and deliver all that lovely acetylcholine, histamine, and formic acid. But with all its herbal benefits, I'd say that if it weren't for the trichomes, it'd be on my list for the Abbey Garden in a minute. And did Eeyore eat nettles, or just thistles? Or both? I can't remember. Anyone?
Nettle Tea
Back in the Greenhouse Meadow, as the official
groundskeeper (or groondskeepahrr) I played around with different ideas on what to do with all that nettle. I found a book in the local used bookstore about strange organic home remedies in the garden, so I had my garden crew harvest big bucketfulls of nettles. We covered the buckets with black tarps and let them rot down for a few months. When we uncovered them in early spring the stink was just incredible. There is no comparison, except maybe to the droppings of a major carnivore. The book said it was because of all the calcium in the nettles. Personally, I think it was a sort of Picture of Dorian Grey experience, and the foul odor excreted by the rotted nettles was actually their evil nature distilled and hanging in the air around them. Except the plants aren't really beautiful enough to truly play out this Wildeian comparison.... Anyway. Where was I? We made a compost tea out of this concoction and used it on the outside planters, noses tucked well out of the way. The annuals loved it.
Thorns & Thistles
Today I ended up thinking about the Fall, and if nettles had these same hurtful properties in Eden, or did it change with the curse? I think of it in the same category of the 'thorns & thistles' God talks about as He curses man. Is it waiting for its redemption as well? If so, this makes it easier to feel compassion for the nettle, giant hogsweed, poison oak and all the other 'cursed' plants out there. I can see them all as my little brothers and sisters, as Chesterton wrote, we're all fallen; all waiting for the 'glorious liberty of the children of God.'
'For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God; for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of him who subjected it in hope; because the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and obtain the glorious liberty of the children of God.' Romans 8:19-21

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Read Your Way Through the Garden: Choice Tomes From Garden Literature

  • A Book of Salvias by Betsy Clebsch
  • Botany for Gardeners by Brian Capon
  • Making Bentwood Trellises by Jim Long
  • RHS Encyclopedia of Plants & Flowers
  • Rose Primer: An Organic Approach to Rose Selection & Care by Orin Martin
  • Start With the Soil by Grace Gershuny
  • Sunset Western Garden Book
  • Sunset Western Landscaping Book
  • The Book of Garden Secrets by Patent & Bilderback
  • The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Botany
  • the Gardener's Table: A Guide to Natural Vegetable Growing and Cooking by Richard Merrill & Joe Ortiz
  • The Gardener's Year by Karel Capek
  • The Hutchinson Dictionary of Plant Names: Common & Botanical
  • We Made A Garden by Margaret Fish

lotsa latin: rosa's botanical & etymological ruminations

  • vespertinus: flowers in the evening
  • vernalis:spring
  • veni vidi nates calcalvi: we came, we saw, we kicked butt. This was printed on a T shirt I bought at Abbot's Thrift many years ago. It encircled the NEA symbol. I wish I knew why.
  • superciliaris: shaped like an eyebrow ex: sturnella superciliaris, the White-browed Blackbird
  • rosa-sinensis: species of Hibiscus: Hibiscus rosa-sinensis. Lit. Rosa of China, so named by British plant hunters.
  • placentiformis: shaped like a cake ex: discocactus placentiformis
  • nudiflorus: flowers before leaves show ex: flowering quince, magnolia
  • nivalis: growing in or near snow ex: galanthus nivalis (common snowdrop)
  • muralis: growing on walls
  • mirabilis: marvellous, wonderful
  • formosa: beautiful ex: dicentra formosa, a.k.a.western bleeding heart/dutchman's breeches/lady in a bath
  • carpe vitam: get a life
  • Carolus Linnaeus: Latinized name of Carl von Linne (1707-1778), Swedish naturalist considered the father of plant taxonomy. Whatta guy.